Group draw throws big guns together in hurling title race

WHENEVER a pool draw is made in any competition, pundits immediately zone in on one particular group and, if warranted or not, slap on the term ‘Group of Death’. So, what then, would you call a senior hurling championship group which includes three All-Ireland club champions of the last four years?

Fair enough, there is not much worse than ‘Death’ – but tell that to 2012 county intermediate champions Killimordaly who have been drawn against reigning All-Ireland club holders St. Thomas’, three-time national winners, Portumna and 2010 Tom Callanan and Tommy Moore Cup victors Clarinbridge.

Just as well Killimordaly have immunity from relegation for this current campaign, yet manager Tomas Broderick now faces the unenviable task of rousing his charges for three of the most difficult battles they will ever face. His task is made all the more harder by the fact that Killimordaly will be going in cold into this campaign – while the other three have all championship victories under their belts.

In any event, ‘Group A’ will be the most closely watched of all four sections over June and July – especially as it kicks off on the weekend of June 2 with the high profile clash of St. Thomas’ and Portumna – although, one would have to say, the other three groups are also finely balanced.
In ‘Group B’, two of last year’s semi-finalists, Gort and Turloughmore are included, and they are joined by 2012 quarter-finalists Mullagh and the winner of the Ardrahan and Tynagh/Abbey-Duniry second round fixture which takes place this Sunday. As with ‘Group A’, the opening meeting of Gort and Turloughmore could well set the tone for this section.

2012 county finalists Loughrea have been pooled against Castlegar, Kinvara and Craughwell, the latter of which they have already defeated in the first round. Enda McDonnell’s men will face Kinvara in their opening group clash while a resurgent Castlegar will be fancied to account for Craughwell having knocked them out of the competition at the same stage last year.

‘Group D’ encapsulates the novelty of this system with a number of teams who have not seen the knockout stages in recent years now afforded the opportunity to claim a place in the business end of the championship.

The exception, Padraig Pearses, who were unlucky to lose out to Gort in the quarter-finals last year, will be favoured to advance, leaving Kiltormer, Tommy Larkins and Beagh or Liam Mellows – who have their second round replay this Saturday – fighting it out for the last berth.

The draw for relegation was also made in the Salthill Hotel on Tuesday night. Sarsfields, Carnmore and the loser of the Ardrahan and Tynagh/Abbey-Duniry make up one group while Moycullen, Athenry and the loser of Beagh and Liam Mellows complete the other. With games outstanding in the intermediate championship, that draw will now take place in Gort next Tuesday evening.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.